Everything you need to know about Korea’s Lunar New Year

Celebrating Seollal: Korea’s Lunar New Year in Korea

Seollal (설날), or Lunar New Year, stands out as one of Korea’s grandest traditional holidays. It is not as big as what it was in the past but, understanding it you can understand the culture of Korea.

 

So why not learn more to understand Korean Culture?

Why is Seollal important?

Seollal holds immense significance for Koreans for several reasons, chiefly among them being its role in familial bonding and cultural heritage preservation. As a country that rapidly industrialized, Korea values the preservation of traditions that anchor individuals to their roots and values. Seollal, marking the first day of the Korean lunar calendar, unfolds over three days brimming with family gatherings, traditional practices, and moments of reflection. Typically celebrated in January or February, it provides a unique opportunity for Koreans to honor their ancestors and embrace the new year with optimism.

A Time for Family Reunion

Far from being just another public holiday, Seollal serves as a crucial link for reuniting family members who may be dispersed not only across Korea but around the globe. It offers a pause from the fast-paced urban life, encouraging people to undertake long journeys back to their familial homes. This reunion goes beyond mere tradition—it’s a deeply valued chance to reinforce family ties and partake in the shared legacy of cultural traditions.

Honoring Ancestors

Central to the Seollal celebration is the 차례 (Charye) ritual, an ancestral memorial service that embodies the deep-seated Korean ethos of respect and gratitude toward one’s ancestors. This ceremony fosters a connection with family lineage, instilling a sense of continuity and belonging that spans generations. Through Charye, Koreans not only pay homage to their ancestors but also reinforce the familial and societal bonds that define them.

Seollal Traditions
Sebae: A Gesture of Respect

A pivotal moment of Seollal is 세배 (Sebae), a deep bow performed by younger family members towards their elders. This act of respect is rewarded with 세뱃돈 (Sebaetdon), New Year’s money, and blessings for prosperity and health, fostering a culture of reverence and gratitude.

Joyful Games

The holiday is also a time for joy and play, with traditional Korean games taking center stage. Families and friends bond over games like Yutnori, Jegichagi, and Neolttwigi, each offering a unique blend of fun, strategy, and physical activity, thereby enriching the festive spirit.

The Significance of 떡국 (Rice Cake Soup)

No Seollal feast is complete without 떡국 (Tteokguk), a rice cake soup believed to add a year to one’s age. This dish symbolizes a fresh start and the accumulation of wisdom, making it a crucial part of the New Year’s meal.

The Beauty of Hanbok

The holiday is also a spectacle of cultural beauty, with many choosing to wear hanbok, Korea’s traditional attire. The vibrant colors and elegant designs of hanbok add to the festive atmosphere, paying homage to Korea’s rich cultural heritage.

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